SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

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The overall educational culture of your child’s school is an important role in school success.  From the principal down through each grade level, there should be a clear school-wide plan for student success and academic growth.

Here are 6 fundamentals that promote positive and successful school cultures, and should be in effect at your child’s school:

1. All students can learn. Even if a child has learning difficulties or issues, that child can learn and advance to the best of his abilities.


2. There are clear expectations for all students. This should apply both to academics and acceptable school conduct. Many schools have adopted the PBIS system (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) to place the focus on appropriate school behaviors. PBIS is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and 11 technical assistance units across the country.


3. Academic school standards are high and rigorous. If your state is following the Common Core Standards, rigor and achievement are clearly defined.


4. The school has accountability measures for both students and teachers. For students, this means that assessments are equitable across grade levels. For teachers, this means that evaluations are done with clear state- or city-wide expectations and consequences for all.


5. Teachers collaborate among grade levels. Many schools set up common planning time so that teachers, in the same grade level, can plan and discuss curriculum direction and assessments. This ensures that all students, at that grade level, are receiving important skills at the same time.

6. Respect and kindness in classrooms. What parent hasn’t cringed when they overheard a teacher yelling at or embarrassing a child? Or, what parent hasn’t been mortified when they were called to a conference because their child was disrespectful to a teacher or principal? When schools actively develop a culture of kindness and respect, children naturally respond with empathy and acceptance—even when disagreeing.


Parents can do much to help promote and ensure a positive school culture. A good first-step is to become actively involved in your child’s school PTO





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Let me set the scene: TIME: Last spring, at the end of the school year. LOCATION: The library at my kid’s school, Roosevelt Elementary. SETTING: The last PTO meeting of the year.

I was tempted to pretend to be sick. I’d spent the previous year acting as vice president of the whole “she”-bang! It was hard work but my youngest child was in school full time and I gave it my all. And anyone who volunteers in their kid’s school knows how rewarding it is.

We raised money for new playground and PE equipment. We planted 4 new trees on the school lawn. We supported teachers and staff during teacher appreciation week and created a new community movie night for the whole “school family.”

And we were exhausted.

I was doing the whining, but my PTO president was finishing up her THIRD year, the first two without a vice president! Bless her.

Still, I showed up to that end of year meeting with a plan. Because, you know, vice presidents often become… (gulp) presidents! And I knew I couldn’t do that. I was working more and more from home and, as a family, we had decided to bring a foster child into our home (back to the world of pre-school, people!). And with my oldest child going into high school, I worried about what sort of new and scary time commitments that would bring. (Drama Club, anyone?)

I knew it was my year to be the soldier. Not the general. A change in rank.

It was a hard-fought battle, and I had to stand my ground.

But in the end, I caved… a little. I didn’t agree to run the whole organization. Instead, I agreed to serve as chairperson for the largest fundraiser of the year: the [dreaded] school rummage sale!

At that time, the sale was a whole year away and I figured I had plenty of time to plan for it. I mean, it’s a massive undertaking and a lot of work, but it’s all over in about 2 weeks.

Fast forward to last weekend…and the big day. Thanks to several moms, friends, and a few dads, it went very well. I’m still massaging my feet from being on them all that day, but a $1,600 check for the PTO is worth a couple of tired dogs.

But, what am I going to say at this year’s final PTO meeting? Can I run the school rummage sale again? (Only if I have a co-chairperson.) Do I have any more time this year to do even more volunteering than I did last year? (No.)

I’m afraid it’s another year of being the soldier. Happily doing what I’m told and jumping in where needed. Maybe I’ll get moved up to the rank of sergeant?

Hey! That has a nice ring to it—“Sergeant of the Rummage Sale”!

Anyway, I thought I’d compile 6 Lessons I Learned From Running the School Rummage Sale:

1. Start early. No matter what date you choose, many people will be busy on the same day, so get your team in place early. I used VolunteerSpot.com to create free online sign-up sheets for each task.

2. Send out fliers and use social media early and often. We had (have) a group Facebook page for the rummage sale. Between that and the fliers, we reminded families to bring in their items for the sale and encouraged folks to volunteer to help with the work.

3. Have yummy treats to sell during the day. We asked someone to serve as chairperson of a bake sale with donated baked items. The funny thing” Visitors to a rummage sale will haggle over prices of used goods, but then happily pay whatever you ask for a doughnut or a cold soda!

4. Make sure you hire a charity or second-hand store to help you remove the leftover items at the end of the day. Be sure to call and remind them the day before the event. Our charity forgot and we were stuck “storing” everything all weekend.

5. Pricing items isn’t nearly as important as sorting the goods. Remember, everything is negotiable in the end, anyway!

6. My top tip: Make sure you have an extra-friendly person on site running the sale early in the morning when people first arrive, who’ll gently remind visitors that “this is a fundraiser for the school.” The best phrase I learned to say was as follows: “Your items come to cost $8; will you round that up to $10 for the school?” I was amazed at how many said “Sure!

My husband worries that this sort of fundraiser isn’t sustainable, that our “school family” won’t be able to fill a whole gymnasium with, um, “stuff” year after year. Well, this is the 4th school rummage sale I’ve been part of in this particular school and I swear donations of “stuff” appear like magic every year! Huge thanks to the Roosevelt “school family.” I’m grateful to be part of this team.

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January is having a staring contest with me.

There’s less than a week left of 2011 and I feel like the past year is making fun of all my goals. It knows what I accomplished, it knows what I failed. It knows the big ‘4-0h’ birthday is waiting to knock the wind out of my 30-something self.

But this coming year I am not going to let New Year’s resolutions get the best of me. Because I’m NOT going to make any. That’s right, Mr. 2012, you can take your ball and go home. Here are 10 GoodNCrazy resolutions I am NOT going to accomplish this year.

  • I am NOT going to get enough sleep. With 3 children, piles of dishes, mountains of laundry, 23 DVR’d “House” episodes, and multiple cell phone alarms, all starting at 6:20 a.m.—each urging me to do this, remember that, and leave the house no less than 10x before noon—who needs sleep?!
  • I am NOT going to listen more. I know I talk too much and I’m too loud. If after nearly 40 years I haven’t been able to change that fault, why should I start now?
  • I am NOT going to spend more “one-on-one time” with my kids… so far they’ve turned out okay, and we have all that car-pool time to have meaningful chats right? I’ll start texting them more instead.
  • I am NOT going to travel more. With a husband constantly traveling to various continents and time zones, this mom will be staying home, sipping hot cocoa, and wearing her new Christmas slippers, thankyouverymuch!  (Besides, for me, one ocean hopping trip per 5 years is plenty!)
  • I am NOT going to be Marge-In-Charge at PTO. Instead this year I will be the soldier. I will volunteer my time at the book fair and the elementary school rummage sale. When they ask for volunteers to fill out the board, I will be out filling up the water pitcher.
  • I am NOT going to find more “me time.” Sometimes I feel like I’m bathing in me, me, me; of course it’s my children’s voices I hear in my head not my own inner sanctum getting a blissful (and badly needed) pedicure. But, oh well…
  • I am NOT going to exercise more. Wait… actually I am. (Shhh, don’t tell the resolution police!)

  • I am NOT going to pay more attention to little details. When there is a friend in need, a sick neighbor, or my husband has sore feet at the end of the day, I’m simply going to begin chanting: I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you.
  • I am NOT going to take a digital photography class. I’ve only wanted to do this for the last 7 years of my life. What’s one more year? (2013, watch out; I plan to digitally re-master you till you cry.)
  • Finally, I am NOT going to make any resolutions this year.

So, if you catch me sleeping-in past 7, baking a casserole for my pregnant friend, sneaking into a digital photography course, or raising my hand to chair a PTO fundraiser…pretend you don’t see me. Just wink and turn around very slowly. 

So, what Un-Resolutions are you going to make this year?


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A few years ago, my husband’s office holiday party was postponed ’till January because they simply couldn’t find a Friday night to host it. However, that party was quite possibly the best (better late than never) holiday party I’ve ever been to! We laughed and snorted just as hard at the white elephant gifts, which were still wrapped in red and gold paper with sparkly bows and candy canes—just as if it’d been December. And we definitely enjoyed the evening together sans kid and without the stress of two other events the same night!


It got me thinking …


What if we could postpone some of the crazy, umpteen, school holiday events? If we did, would I get laughed out of the PTO? Would my Facebook page light up with criticisms and Bah Humbugs? Or would I get extra eggnog at the next parent-teacher conference?!


I’m being serious. Think about it. Would it be so terrible to have a band concert the last week of January? Half the time there are only a few Christmas songs on the playlist, and it’s been renamed the Winter Concert as it is. I don’t know about you, but we get more snow in February than December anyway!


Imagine if the piano and dance recitals, the band and choir concerts, or even the 2nd grade school play were delayed until January? You know what that would do? It would allow my family to concentrate on OUR holiday in a way that focuses on FAMILY TIME.


I’ll volunteer to host the ugly sweater party in February! Cookie exchanges? Oh honey, I’m game for cookies year-round!


Why do we insist on heaping numerous activities and parties into 2 or 3 short weeks in December? Maybe the answer is in picking and choosing and letting the things slide that aren’t high on your family’s priority list, and then making an even bigger deal of the events that mean the most to you and yours.


For my family that holiday priority list would include the occasions where my whole family is involved. Things like church Christmas parties—where the teenager is involved with wrapping little kid gifts, the younger kids sing Christmas carols, and my husband cooks up 14 hams. Another tradition I wouldn’t postpone are our Monday family service nights where we bake up treats and deliver them secretly to neighbors, (they always know it’s us, and we can’t figure out how!). Extended family gatherings will always be high on our list as well as several other community—and yes, school—holiday events.


I’m not suggesting we postpone EVERY holiday event…but there must be way to make the holidays less chaotic, because December in my world is crazy right now!


What usually-held-in-December event would you postpone for a month or two?

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It’s happened to all of us. Your child tells you the night before that he’s out of lunch money in his account at school and needs it for the next day—or else.

That “or else” used to mean a stern dressing-down by the even sterner “lunch lady.” It was embarrassing for your child, but she got over it.

This week, a school in Rhode Island opted for a more punitive method that’s becoming the norm for more and more cash-strapped school districts—giving children who are out of school lunch money a cold cheese sandwich for their lunch.

The Rhode Island school’s policy allows for a child to receive three free hot lunches when their lunch money account is at zero before getting the “cold” shoulder, er, sandwich, for their fourth lunch.

Rhode Island isn’t alone in this policy: in 2009, large school systems such as the Albuquerque Public School district instituted the “cold cheese sandwich” policy—often referred to as a “courtesy lunch”—along with hundreds of other districts across the country.

Problem is, kids feel singled out and humiliated when handed their cold cheese sandwich, which comes with a piece of fruit and a carton of milk; that apparently makes the lunch nutritious according to Department of Education guidelines. But most kids and their parents say such a meal is not filling or appealing.

And for kids already stigmatized by receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, getting slapped with a cold cheese sandwich feels like insult added to injury.

But it gets worse. Students in the Edmonds School District in Washington actually have their hot lunch trays taken away from them in the lunch line if they owe money on their lunch account, and are presented with the cold cheese sandwich instead. Talk about humiliating.

The decision to give a cold cheese sandwich for lunch is a local one, according to information in a 2009 study done by the School Nutrition Association. In “The Bottom Line on Charge Policies,” a statement from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service read: “All full price policies for school meals are matters of local discretion. This includes decisions about whether or not to extend credit to children who forget their meal money or whether or not to provide an alternate meal to such children. Therefore, a school could decide not to provide meals to children who must pay the full price for their meals but do not have the money to do so. In some cases, the PTA or other school organization may establish a fund to pay for children who forget or lose their money. Schools should ensure that parents are fully aware of the policy adopted for children who do not have their meal money.”

What’s the policy in your children’s school? Have they ever received a cold cheese sandwich for lunch?

Editor's note: For healthy, nutritious school lunch and lunchbox ideas, visit our new SchoolFamily.com Recipe Share. Do you have a good recipe you'd be willing to share? Send it to us and we'll include it on our site!

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Have you and your children decided on what teacher gifts you’ll be giving for the holidays? If you’ve chosen a $25 gift card and you live in Alabama, you’ll want to reconsider—lest your gift sends a teacher to jail.

A new law prohibiting certain gifts to public officials and employees—narrowly defined to include teachers—took effect in the southern state earlier this year and is being put to the test in these next few weeks before the holidays, as children search for the perfect teacher gift.

Kids in Alabama who've fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums (or Hanukkah dreidels) dancing in their heads may be disappointed when it comes to selecting holiday gifts for their teachers.

Outlawed teacher gifts include “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value”—although that specific dollar amount wasn't specified. Homemade gifts—those that aren’t worth much, monetarily speaking—are still okay, so cookies, knitted oven mitts, baskets of fruit, breads, etc. are permissible.

But should a teacher receive a more valuable gift, he or she might be found guilty of breaking the state’s ethics law and could face up to a year in jail and a fine of $6,000.

Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.

According to this report from the Associated Press, Alabama Republican Senator Bryan Taylor, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law prevents teachers from favoring one child over another, i.e. theoretically favoring the better gift-giver, and protects families who can’t afford to give big teacher gifts.

 “In every classroom, there is a Tiny Tim who can't afford a turkey or ham,” Taylor told the AP.

However, it seems that Alabama’s teachers are paying the penalty for a handful of Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists who were brought up on corruption charges not long ago. While I’ll bet they weren’t found guilty of giving a Christmas ham to the people they were trying to influence, their criminal actions effectively lowered the boom on teachers. And the state Ethics Commission wouldn’t consider exempting teachers from the law, saying “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse.”

As anyone with kids knows, it's so convenient to opt for purchasing a book or a book gift certificate or gift cards from stores where teachers can purchase classroom supplies. It’s the rare teacher who receives a fancier gift. But even gift cards are out in Alabama, unless the card is purchased through an organization like the local PTO with individual donations of no more than $5 per child.

So, children of Alabama, you'd better get busy baking or knitting if you want to give your teacher a holiday gift. Bah humbug, indeed.

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Our family’s world revolves around the activities of our three school-age kids.  And as much as it often looks like we don’t know whether we’re coming or going… all those activities we’re involved in are things we choose to do and wouldn’t change.

  • Free guitar lessons on Wednesdays? Great. We’re in.
  • Chess Club starting on Monday? Perfect; where do we sign up?
  • 5th grade Scarecrow Crafting contests! (Please bid on the…um, “creative” creations? Yes, but if I win the auction will it be okay if we don’t bring it home? The wet hay stinks!)

If you think about it, all these activities and extras, whether during or after school, are all thanks in huge part to brave volunteers and already-weary teachers who go the extra mile and take the time to care.

Chess Club, for example, is run by Mr. Young, a 4th grade teacher. He’s been checkmating 2nd through 6th graders long enough to know college-age kids who used to be on his team! That scarecrow bonanza owes its brain to a room mom who spent umpteen hours rounding up multiple parents to help with supplies and valuable time. And the music teacher who spends her Wednesdays teaching young kids to strum a mean Kumbayah? She doesn’t get paid for that; it’s on her own string.

All around us in our extended “SchoolFamily,” there are numerous people that we’re grateful for. I’ve created a list of just a few specific to our family; Who are YOU grateful for in YOUR community’s “SchoolFamily?”

  • All our schoolteachers of course! We totally get that they are a huge influence in our children’s lives. And if there is ever a job that doesn’t get enough thanks it’s that of being a teacher. Our “SchoolFamily” supports and thanks ALL of our teachers!
  • The SMART reading volunteers across our whole town. Hundreds of SMART volunteers (stands for Start Making A Reader Today) read one-on-one in schools to younger grades. Thanks to all those participating in a reading program that really hits the needed mark.
  • After-school activity teachers and leaders. We’re grateful to our piano teacher, art teacher, volleyball volunteer coaches, T-Ball coach—and of course we can’t forget the drama coach! Over the years we’ve had ballet teachers, karate teachers, and multiple other types of teachers—thank you to all.
  • Church/Youth Group volunteers. We are always grateful to Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, and Cub Scout leaders who are all volunteers and are not only unpaid, but often under-appreciated!
  • Community and cultural volunteers. Have you thought about all the people-hours that go into the various parades, festivals, and town/city carnivals in your area throughout the year?  Some city positions are paid, however remember that many, many volunteers help support and spend their own time and resources to create memorable events like a Veterans Day parade, a Christmas Carnival, or planning and running a successful 4th of July  Festival! And every time there is a cultural event, be it a play, a choir, or a community children’s performance, there are sure to be volunteers behind the scenes helping your community be a better place to live.

THANK YOU to all of the people who give of their time and talents to my “SchoolFamily.”

Who is your “SchoolFamily” gratitude list?



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My fake Farah Fawcett wig is off to teachers who make a difference … kudos to teacher involvement in schools everywhere!

Three years ago, we experienced our first elementary “Halloween Carnival” at our current school. And I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled to attend yet “another” fundraiser. The week of Halloween is crazy-hectic enough with last minute family costume changes, church events, classroom parties, friend's parties, and … Trick or Treating, don’t forget!

Like many events, however, we absolutely enjoyed the carnival once we got there. (As if the kids would let me miss it!) We gathered up our ghosts and goblins and marched in to purchase our tickets. I was prepared with a few dollars so that each kid could buy popcorn, drinks, and whatever snacks were provided.

I wasn’t prepared, however, for the teacher involvement.

The what? You heard me.

It was something I had never experienced before. We’ve lived in 4 different states, attended 6 different schools, and I can tell you it’s a rare occurrence to see teachers in the building after school hours … much less RUNNING the whole school carnival!

After I snatched my jaw up off the cotton-candy crusted floor, I asked around. “Is this normal? Do the teachers usually attend after school events?” And the response was: “Well … this IS their fundraiser after all.”

Really? What a great idea! Turns out the funds raised are divided among the teachers for them to spend as they see fit: mainly on classroom supplies or as a year-end budget for simple field trips (mostly for transportation expenses.)

Our PTO gets involved and helps supply paper goods for the event, but the planning and operation is carried out solely by the teachers and our amazing Principal Krieger. Knowing this benefits the teachers directly—and my kids indirectly—has kept us returning year after year to enjoy the goodncrazy chaos and fun.

Apparently this carnival tradition has been tricking out for many years, because the game booths are substantial (they've obviously been built by hand) and have been improved over the years. Imagine running the popcorn stand or the pie throwing booth?!

Yes. They are ALL teachers.

Possibly the best part of the whole night? Seeing Principal Krieger dressed as a scarecrow!

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Did you know that on average, teachers spend $462 of their own money to buy supplies for their classroom?  

Enter TeacherWishList.com! This new site was launched last week by School Family Media (our parent company), with support from Procter & Gamble’s Bounty brand. TeacherWishList.com takes the old-fashioned printed wish list and makes it a lot more new-fashioned by using the web, email tools and even social media. Teachers can load their lists (or parents or your PTO can load the lists for them) and then share and update the lists and basically get the help they deserve.  Pretty cool. 

Since the launch last week, over 4,000 teachers have already signed up and entered wish lists. Think this speaks to how easy the site is for parents and teachers to use. There’s even a free kit that has a poster and flyers to help you promote the program at your school. 

To celebrate the new site, Teacher Wish List’s sponsor, Bounty, is giving away some amazing prizes: 

A $25,000 Art Room Makeover

Each school that submits five or more wish lists will be entered for a chance to win the grand prize: a $25,000 art room makeover with the help of a designer.

Weekly Giveaways

Ten teachers each week will receive a $462 prize to help fulfill their classroom wish lists. Weekly winners will be posted in the Recent News section on TeacherWishList.com.

So scoot. Go check out TeacherWishList.com to get the full scoop on all the giveaways and to sign up your school! And be sure to tell teachers and your friends who have school-age kids.  This is one of these times that we all win... teachers, schools, parents, and most importantly our kids!


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Megan Fox, American Idol, texting donations. Wow, school parent groups certainly are finding original ways to combat extreme budget cuts! With the level of cuts we are seeing recently, the standard school fundraisers aren’t enough. Have to hand it to these school communities — instead of just bemoaning the cuts, they are banding together to make things happen. With creativity and flair to boot. Check out these programs:

We wish these school communities and parent groups the best of luck. How is your school fighting budget cuts? Would love to hear about your programs.

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What's your perception of your school's PTO or PTA group? Do you think it's friendly and hardworking... or cliquey and unwelcoming? If you said the latter, you are not alone.

Connecticut mom, Monica, felt that way about the PTA at her kids' school. In her recent blog post, "To PTA or not PTA" she talks about her shifting perspective of her parent group and the choices she made. She could have been turned off by a seemingly cliquey group and opted to do nothing. Instead, she got involved despite her perception.The quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world", (Ghandi) comes to mind.

Monica started off by volunteering for small things and eventually became the PTA president.

So, was she sucked in? Nope.Somewhere along the way, she realized all the amazing benefits that come along with being involved in your school's parent group.A stronger connection to the school, and higher achieving kids top a long list of reasons to volunteer.

Still not convinced that you should send in that PTO or PTA volunteer form? Then read One Last Dance by Sharron Kahn Luttrell -- a  must-read for any parent who has ever thought about volunteering at school.


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You can't pick up a paper or turn on the TV or radio without reading or hearing a mention about Swine Flu. Are you still wondering how parents and schools should respond to the H1N1 virus? Wanted to let you know that we just added an article about health officials'  latest recommendations for parents and schools regarding Swine Flu

Curious to hear how you and your school are taking precautions. 

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I’m sensing that schools are going to be the first line of defense this fall and winter when it comes to the Swine Flu and getting our kids vaccinated.  This AP article on parents’ views of school and the flu shows that most parents are comfortable with their kids getting the flu help right at school.  Not surprised, since from what I’m reading, this new flu strain is spreading especially quickly among children.


After the initial deluge of attention, it seems like Swine Flu concern has died down some.  What are you feeling?  Me?  I’m not overly concerned, but I’m definitely interested in getting our kids and our whole family protected as soon as we can. I like the idea of schools leading this effort, as…. well….  where better to get the big swatch of kids in one fell swoop?


If you’re interested in the concept (having the school host the clinic) for your child’s school, then definitely check out the “Teach Flu a Lesson” program over at ptotoday.com. Spread the word to your administration, school nurse or PTO or PTA.  I suspect we’re going to be hearing more and more about this in the next weeks and months.

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All of us school parents have faced this dilemma, I imagine. Should I get involved with, how much should I get involved with or should I run away from the PTO or PTA at the kids' school?

Of course, here at schoolfamily.com, we think getting involved is the way to go (and doesn't have to be life-alteringly crazy), but I'm certainly open to other perspectives. Like these two competing takes from babble.com. First writer now hates the PTA after having served. Second writer has come to respect and enjoy the PTA after initial skepticism.
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Really like this idea from a couple of kids at a Florida school. (And -- yes --I may especially like it because we're right in the middle of our 4 fall birthdays at our house.) The spirit and simplicity of this plan is very appealing. Birthday Party + Charity +PTO Plaque = great combo!

If you have time, click the link and maybe even commend these kids on their program. If not, the nutshell is that kids in this school can choose to support a charity for their birthday party in lieu of the various toys they don't really need. Added touch: the kids make a trip to deliver the gift as part of the party, and the birthday boys and girls get remembered forever on the school's Birthday Club plaque. Very cool.
Tagged in: PTOs and PTAs
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Not exactly light reading, but if you're looking for a good read on the hows and whys of getting involved with your child's school, this parent involvement Q&A with a Connecticut district's parent involvement coordinator captures all the angles. Good stuff.
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Took me a couple of reads to actually like this story from England about the joys and perils of connecting with the PTO or PTA at your school.

My first reaction was to criticize the stereotypical portrayal that parent group volunteering means getting caught up in playground politics and cliques. (I actually wrote a column for our sister site -- ptotoday.com -- on how PTOs can avoid cliquedom) Also was disappointed that the representative from the British national PTA seems to say that "all PTAs are cliques and if you don't like it, find something else."
"Of course there's going to be the idea that the PTA is a bit cliquey. It's never intended but it almost always is."

Ugh. It's not inevitable. It's certainly an issue, but in my experience a lot of parents also go in expecting a problem and then use the first negative experience as an excuse to turn away.

But on the whole, I really liked the overall message, which is:
"Whether you're batch-baking cakes or just buying a raffle ticket, the golden rule to stress-free PTA involvement seems to be do what you can and forget the guilt."

That really hits it. If the PTO or PTA volunteering is for you -- great. If not, find another way to connect. The positive results ofgetting involvedare just too great to ignore. We've also got good ideas on how you can get involed on your own terms.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?